The truth about… schizophrenia

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe and often devastating brain disorder in which affected individuals experience breaks in reality.

The condition can disrupt their thought processes and ability to carry out their daily functions. People with untreated schizophrenia can suffer severe symptoms such as disorganised thinking, false beliefs, delusions and hallucinations. However, with proper treatment and self care, it is possible to manage the condition and lead a healthy and productive life.

Before I was diagnosed with the condition, I’d hear nasty and persecutory voices in my head that would sometimes even give direct instructions. By the time I realised that the voices weren’t normal, I had been subjected to intense emotional distress. I was always worried, suspicious, and could hardly concentrate in college. It was only after diagnosis that I was able to manage the condition and live like everyone else. If you have just been diagnosed with the condition, it is worth understanding these insights on how to live with schizophrenia.

Medical treatment is critical

Suspecting that you have schizophrenia without seeking medical care will do you no good. There are about seven to eight people in 1,000 who suffer from the condition, and those who leave it untreated can suffer extreme and devastating symptoms. The first step to managing and living with this disorder is seeing a doctor. While medicine may not cure schizophrenia, it can help manage its symptoms. For instance, antipsychotic medication tends to reduce the voices in the head. It also reduces the compulsion to engage with the voices or even take their instruction.

Medicine works differently for different people, so you need to discuss your medication options with your doctor. Be proactive in monitoring the condition and symptoms so you can tell your GP exactly how you’re being affected. Also, you need to take the medication exactly as instructed. Going off the medication can cause a relapse and worsen the symptoms. Symptoms can sometimes be severe in women in their 40s due to low oestrogen levels, so you need to be particularly vigilant with your medication.

Therapy helps with the voices

Talking therapy has helped me in dealing with the voices and the hallucinations that come with them. My best option is one-on-one counselling with a professional counsellor or therapist. At times, it is easier and more comfortable to talk about the voices with a stranger rather than family or friends. This also allows you to be more open and real about the condition.

You could also consider joining a support group. Sharing your experiences and tips on how to manage the voices, hallucinations, and other symptoms can be quite therapeutic. You can also discuss other common issues, such as  problems with friends and neighbours, housing, and issues with claiming benefits. All these problems can make life even more complicated if you didn’t know how to handle them. Most of what I have learned about living with schizophrenia is due to the support group I joined several years ago after a recommendation from my counsellor.

Being proactive in self care

There’s only so much that the doctor, your family, friends, counsellor or support group can do to ease the symptoms of schizophrenia. Most people who recover or show improvement are proactive in self care. This includes:

  • Maintaining good physical health by exercising regularly. Start with low-intensity workouts such as walking and work your way up to moderate-intensity ones.
  • Protecting your mental health by avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs that can impair your judgment or worsen the symptoms.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet. Cut down on saturated fats, sugar, and salt. I also find consuming high-fibre diets, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and trout, and drinking lots of water throughout the day to be really helpful.
  • Trying to avoid too much stress.
  • Making sure you’re getting enough sleep.

Self care also means monitoring your mental health so that you can identify signs of an acute schizophrenic episode. These are symptoms that indicate you are relapsing and need to seek further treatment or change your prescription. Some of the common signs include stress, anxiety, lack of or disturbed sleep, and loss of appetite. Consult your doctor if you notice these symptoms, even if you are under medication.

Recovery from schizophrenia

Research shows that with proper treatment and self care, people with schizophrenia can experience significant, though not complete, recovery from the condition. Over the years, I had had significant improvement in my mental and overall health compared to when I was first diagnosed. It is possible to have a normal life outside a hospital, build your career, and socialise with friends and family. Although mild symptoms may persist over the years, especially as you grow older, it is possible to function independently without being institutionalised. Although there hasn’t yet been a breakthrough in finding a cure for the illness, researchers have made significant progress in improving the lives of the affected.

Stay positive

Diagnosis of schizophrenia should not be a reason to despair and give up on your life, career and ambitions. One thing I always stress to people who are like me is: you are not alone. There are many individuals like us who suffer mental disorders, and it’s not that big a deal.

By seeking treatment, taking your medicine faithfully, practising self care and seeking therapy, you manage your symptoms and live a productive life.